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“No matter what market you are in if you open a door, you create an opportunity”

Home » “No matter what market you are in if you open a door, you create an opportunity”

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Jerome Crawford, director of legal operations and social equity discusses cannabis reform, advocacy and how the UK can learn from US legal states.

The cannabis industry was valued at US$20.73 billion in 2020 and is set to be worth $111.31 billion by 2028. It is also thought to support 321,000 jobs in everything from packaging to sales to growing plants. However, alongside this incredible growth, comes a slower pace of releasing non-violent cannabis offenders from prisons.

While some brands embrace adopting a social equity policy and making a positive change, others find it a bit more daunting or choose not to engage at all.

Jerome Crawford is the Director of legal operations and social equity for the US brand Pleasantrees. Pleasantrees has made it their mission to actively work with those still incarcerated. Jerome has a strong legal background which makes him the perfect candidate to advise Pleasantrees on best practices.

Speaking with Cannabis Wealth, Jerome explained why it’s important for brands to commit to change.

Jerome said: “It’s simple as we live by the saying, do well do good. We are a for-profit industry but what are you doing along the way to be part of the change you want to see?”

He added: “Cannabis should never have been illegal in the first place. As a black man from the city of Detroit, I experienced an impoverished situation and racism. I know all too well what it means when you have a targeted approach.

Creating cannabis change

For cannabis brands and companies that want to be a part of that change, it’s about recognition, not guilt. You have to open doors for others. You need to be lifting as you are climbing and intentionally doing so for the folks that were hardest hit by prohibition and criminalisation.”

Pleasantrees has just announced a collaboration with Richard Wershe, otherwise known as White Boy Rick. Richard Wershe became the youngest FBI informant ever at the age of 14 in the 1980s. Wershe was involved in Detroit’s drug trade during the War on Drugs. He eventually ended up working in the drug trade after he no longer worked with the FBI. He was arrested for cocaine possession served 32 years in prison. He was released in July 2020 and is now suing the FBI and prosecutors for allegedly using him as an informant from the age of 14.

Rick, now aged 52, is now moving into the established US cannabis market with the release of his new range, The 8th. The 8th has been developed with Pleasantrees, a vertically integrated cannabis company based in Michigan. The collaboration will focus on flower in pre-rolls and vape cartridges along with brand clothing. A substantial portion of the sales proceeds will be dedicated towards the release of wrongly or excessively imprisoned drug offenders.

Richard Wershe: Cannabis brand owner Pleasantrees and the 8th

Read our interview with White Boy Rick here

Jerome said: “We met Rick last summer when we were filming an episode of Canna Cribs. He came for a tour and got to know us. He was being approached by a lot of people who just wanted to use his name. He wanted to be very meaningful about what he was doing.

We realised that he didn’t just want to put his name to something so beyond the partnership, he is actually an employee of the company. So we created the brand, the Eighth together because it was centred around his story as being a nonviolent drug offender and also around the parallel of what happens with most non-violent offenders.”

Rick and Jerome went on to form a partnership with a strong social equity effort centred around four pillars. These included access to the value chain, education, legislative advocacy and being a good neighbour.

“The value chain means how are you giving access to opportunities for people that were the hardest affected. We are specifically targeting you directly for job opportunities not just posting on Linkedin. When it comes to legislation advocacy, it’s about getting people out. If we have a commercial industry then why are bodies, in particular black or brown bodies, still in prison? That’s a lot of work right there,” he said.

“Our fourth pillar of being a good neighbour is what it sounds like. It means supporting communities that support us. If we are a new neighbour in an area and open a store there then we can help out by giving back. In East Lansing, we started a scholarship that was specifically for students who come from the hardest-hit cities by cannabis-related prohibition.”

He added: “We offered book scholarships to students at Michigan State pursuing their education because of our store in East Lansing. This is a lot of the work we do with Rick as he does great things in the community. He has a heart for it and personally, so do I.”

When it comes to the numbers of those still incarcerated for non-violent drug offences, it remains high in the US. While change is happening, it isn’t happening quickly enough.

Jerome said: “We work with many different groups but one in particular called The Last Prisoner Project. Their purpose is to advocate for the 40,000 individuals that are still locked up for cannabis-related crimes. However, it’s a slow turning wheel.”

He added: “The fight is happening. Sometimes it’s the bigger stories that you see in the headline but what is happening on the smaller end?”

Jerome shared that they have been writing to the Governor of Michigan on behalf of one prisoner, Rudi Gammo. This father-of-three is currently serving five-and-a-half years for operating a city-sanctioned, medical cannabis dispensary in Michigan.

“Rudi Gammo is another individual we have been advocating for as he has been on the frontlines. He was incarcerated for things that are no longer a crime the year after he got locked up. He was a caregiver in the grey market where the laws were kinda squishy. One city allows something that another city doesn’t and you get caught in the middle,” he explained.
“We just spoke at his public hearing about three weeks ago and submitted a letter to the Governor of Michigan on his behalf. There is change but there is also much work to do. We try to not just fight for the change but make the road easier.”


Another initiative the company has been working on saw Jerome mailing over 95 letters to inmates across the county. The letters were written by the Last Prisoner Project and Pleasantrees staff.

“Two days ago, I mailed 95 letters to various prisoners from executives, retail staff and sales people because we want them to feel connected to the mission of social equity. Rick will tell you that those letters matter even if they are from a stranger. It says someone is thinking about you or rooting for you. Even if we can’t get you out tomorrow then we are pulling for you and that is sometimes the difference maker that keeps you going.”

As the UK looks towards trialling decriminalisation in London and Europe moves towards legalisation, what can we learn from the US?

Jerome said: “No matter what market are you in if you open a door, you create an opportunity. The wealthy are generally best suited to jumping in right now. The simple caveat I have is to don’t forget about the people. People who might be consumers also may want to come but aren’t suited to jump into the industry because they don’t have the capital.”

He added: “The states are unique because we have thirty different markets because each state is different. It’s very hard to say learn from us because we don’t even have our own act together. So the more united you can be, the better.”

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